What's all the noise about?
For the past two years there has been much conversation, advertising and media attention surrounding 'the broadband revolution'. While those working in digital space salivate over how broadband will change the social constructs of life - how we work, learn, live and interact - the rest of the world is wondering where the marketing hype finds its feet in reality. What impact will broadband have on the company, the consumer, and the relationship between the two?
Wait for it...
Broadband doesn't affect the content a site (the host) can provide, it affects the content that can be viewed by the end user. Any website has been able to host 'rich' content, characterised by heavy file sizes, if their server and infrastructure has been able to cope. They haven't hosted such data-heavy content because pre-broadband the majority of consumers wouldn't have been able to see it, or rather, the time taken for the web page to download would have been comparable to the time it would take the Royal Mail to deliver the same information as direct mail...in second class post...during a strike.
Now though, faster downloading means the average consumer can experience the web as it was always meant to be. The depth and richness of the information provided can dramatically improve without slowing down the modem to snail pace. The experience is richer and more seamless; consumers enjoy it more; spend more time online, being more interactive and becoming competent more quickly. Alongside this, a broadband connection tends to be always on, so cost becomes fixed rather than variable, the consumer stops worrying about how long they've been on the phone line and doesn't restrict their own surf time. Is that the mythical virtuous circle I can see?
Should I stream that video of the staff Christmas party on the website then...
For obvious reasons that's a no, however broadband does impact upon the content that could be provided on sites in order to make them more appealing, engaging and usable; both as channels to market and marketing channels.
Take website development. Most companies are trying to sell goods. Whether their site has e-commerce functionality or not, the website is often about product display. Think of a clothing retailer for example. Previously the company might have thought of putting single brochure ware images on their website. Now they could show video footage of that clothing at a fashion show, they could show how the fabric moved in a light breeze, cover every angle and increase the level of visual detail. They will essentially be able to replicate more closely the in-store experience by increasing product interaction. In fact, being able to entice the consumer through use of rich visual and audio content may be an even greater opportunity than in-store experience. In such a competitive sales environment, consumer broadband access gives companies an opportunity to make their products stand out and sing "buy me, buy me...I'm bloody gorgeous, buy me".
The same is true of online advertising: the internet is no longer a media of three-frame clickable banner ads. With broadband connections the quality of advertising in terms of interactive ability and visual stand-out increases exponentially. Overlays, expandable banners, games within skyscrapers, video streaming etc. make advertising online like no other media in its ability to actively engage the audience. Why pay for a 30-second TV spot when you can have a video quality digital film running online 24/7 on your site or indeed anyone else's? Moreover, talking to your own customers through rich content emails and e-CRM programs means an ever more involving customer experience and a greater potential for both retention and loyalty.
Because I can, I will
The technology is there, the question is how best to use it. The answer surprisingly isn't to run into the CEO's office screaming "the broadband is coming, let's overhaul the site". Broadband adoption gives companies an opportunity to promote their goods in more appealing ways, but companies must keep their customers at the heart of any changes they make. Customers may prefer functionality to flamboyance and some goods simply won't need more than brochure ware. Spending money exceeding customer expectation on your site isn't necessarily going to correspond to a rises in sales, the same way as it doesn't offline. Consumers haven't changed as much as the technology and consumer online buying behaviour isn't solely linked to broadband adoption.
So good things come to those who wait?
Not necessarily: sometimes those that wait are forever trying to catch up. Five million people now have broadband access, with another 40,000 gaining access every week. The biggest growth is in at-home use. BMRB reports 49% of home users to be broadband users with 9% of those signed up having had no previous internet connection. Adoption is a matter of time and it will increasingly be the norm as the price becomes comparable to narrowband.
Add to this adoption rate research by Forrester, which shows broadband adoption has an instant and dramatic effect on everything from the amount of time spent online, through the number of sites visited, to the amount of money spent and the variety of products purchased. The effect is real, and very present. Consequently broadband users visit more sites and spend more time online, performing more tasks more frequently than their narrowband counterparts. Their expectations of what will be on sites regularly rises in line with experience, and best practice soon becomes the lowest acceptable benchmark. It's not a market that benefits companies considered late adopters as they have so much to learn to re-level the playing field.
What haven't I mentioned?
The effects of broadband adoption are still evolving and somewhat unknown as the relationship between technology and consumers develops. We've talked about broadband in the context of behaviour we have seen occurring, not behaviour that could occur. Think for example of the other benefit of broadband: talking and surfing simultaneously. What effect could that have, on everything from recreating the girl's day out online, through the number and type of queries received to the call centre, to the expected channel integration where a consumer can browse in one channel and buy in another simultaneously. Think also about the possibilities for internal marketing or supply chain management. None of these futurologist predictions are yet borne out but I'd be surprised if they weren't soon; it's a question of keeping up-to-date, or indeed not getting too far behind.
Is it a revolution?
It isn't a revolution, it's evolution, but it's evolution on the scale that landing on the moon was evolution in space travel. It will accelerate the change in the way we use media and be a platform for the growth of wireless applications and converged media. It will have an effect on the way we work, live, learn and interact, on how we spend our time...one of those annoying cases when marketing hype is right.
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Laurent Ezekiel is Client Services Director at full-service digital agency Wheel. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Wheel Ltd is one of the top full-service digital agencies in the UK. It employs almost 100 people at its two offices in London and Glasgow. Wheel's client portfolio includes Marks and Spencer, Unilever, Allied Domecq, BT, Starbucks, Opodo, Laura Ashley, ABSOLUT, Dixons Store Group, IKEA, easyCar, DisneyLand Paris, Vertu and Waitrose.
This article was first published on brandrepublic.com